August 25, 2010
Have a problem or question?
Write to Dear Mom and get an answer from an expert on relationship and family issues. Email your letters to Dearmom@dcspotlight.com or by snail mail to P. O. Box 10844, Silver Spring, MD 20914. Dear Mom is written by Cathy Enns.
Lately, my wife has been avoiding spending time with me and spending long hours at work with a business partner who works on projects with her. I know him and like him, but I’m beginning to believe there is more going on. We have been very busy in the last few months, but this is extreme even for her. When I try to talk about spending time with her or discuss what I think is the problem, she gets defensive. Am I handling this situation wrong? Should I assume that something is going on between them? How should I approach her to talk about it?
Confused in Rockville, MD
At the risk of sounding like a formula, I encourage you to find an experienced marriage and family counselor and make an appointment for an individual session. I truly believe this is the best move you can make to support yourself in this situation. Here’s why.
Whatever may or may not be happening between your wife and her colleague, all is not well in your marriage right now. It sounds like you could use some expert insight and communications help to work toward getting back on track. Let a trained therapist be a sounding board for you, assist you in sorting out your own feelings and help you plan a strategy.
It’s very likely that your counselor will suggest you bring your wife with you to a meeting at some point and that you move forward with counseling together (whether or not you continue individual sessions). That way, the two of you can get help with issues of trust, communication and so on. Whatever you and your wife discover and decide to do, the path can be easier and clearer with professional assistance.
Think of it this way: when you have a plumbing problem or your car isn’t running right, you seek expertise beyond your own. Relationships often merit that same kind of investment.
I work in DC and commute by driving from Virginia into the city. I would like to be home with my two girls by 5:30 pm for dinner and relaxation, but that never seems to be possible. My girls are ages 5 and 8. I am finding myself buying fast food each night for dinner. I’m stressing at night about the next day, and I’m tired when my girls want to play or talk. I love my career and my job and have no plans to quit, but I feel like I’m missing the best part of my kids’ childhood. What should I do?
Exhausted in Herndon, VA
You’re fortunate to have daughters you care about so deeply and a great career to boot. It sounds like a little creativity might help you give your best to both facets of your life.
As a first step, take a look at changes you might make at work to carve out more quality time with your girls. Could you, for instance, cut your hours by just a few and take one afternoon a week off? Perhaps you could arrange for a colleague to cover your area every Wednesday from 1:00 on. Your daughters would be thrilled to have one afternoon a week to look forward to with you, and choosing one regular day and making it a routine would gradually help you leave work consistently.
Does your job permit telecommuting? Maybe with a little extra planning early in the week, you could gather up work and take it home one day at noon. Then you and your girls could do “homework” together. If your boss is sympathetic, talk it over. Chances are, he or she may be somewhat flexible with an enthusiastic employee like you.
At home, carve out special time for you and your daughters and incorporate healthy food in the mix. Try setting aside Sunday afternoon to cook together. Make a pot of spaghetti sauce for pasta and English muffin pizzas during the week, and roast a chicken for Sunday dinner and tacos another night. Hold “picnic night” when you’re short on time. Have the girls spread a checked tablecloth on the floor and decorate while you fill a basket with tuna sandwiches and sliced apples.
Simple routines and traditions mean a lot to children and make memories for the future. Once a month “beauty nights” – when you put on facial masques, take photos and laugh at each other – are great fun. So are winter weekend days spent making paper snowflakes for your windows and homemade valentines for neighbors.
It’s great to hear you acknowledge that this time with your children is fleeting; it is. Good luck in finding creative ways to cherish it, and remember to set a little time aside for your own needs while you’re at it. Maybe the first order of business those free Wednesday afternoons is a long bath and a nap!
My father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and moved out of the home where I grew up. It has taken a huge emotional toll on me. I visited him in the senior citizen’s home where he lives and broke down, because he is quickly deteriorating. I am beginning to feel like an orphan even though he’s still here. I would like to move him into my home with me and my husband, but I’m not sure if that is a good idea. What do you suggest, and how can I overcome these feelings of being orphaned?
Fatherless in NW, DC
This is a difficult situation most of us will face in one form or another. My heart goes out to you.
Your father’s needs and yours, while related, are distinct from each other. He needs medical attention and ‘round the clock care. You see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. If he is in a good facility I would suggest keeping him there, especially since you indicated that his condition seems to be worsening. You want to visit all you can — and you should — but taking him into your home may not be the best choice.
You say your father lives in a “senior citizen’s home.” I wonder whether this will be the right place for him as he declines. It may very well be, if the staff is equipped to handle seniors with advancing Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you’re not sure, a future alternative might be one of the hospice organizations in the D.C. area. There’s www.americanhospice.org, www.thewashingtonhome.org and www.capitalhospice.org, for starters. You might also want to investigate the Hospice Association of America, headquartered right in Washington at www.nahc.org. These organizations will have resources for your father and for you. In fact, Capital Hospice has its own grief counseling center.
Let me suggest that it’s not too soon to seek counseling, from a center or one of the private practices in the area that specialize in grief counseling. (You’ll find many choices with a quick Google search.) You are already grieving for your father with good reason—he’s not the dad you grew up with any longer. That’s hard to bear.
Be extra patient with yourself right now and give yourself time to internalize what’s happening. Sharing with others and enlisting support from people who understand could make a big difference for you. You don’t need to go through this experience alone.
One resource you can consider is the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s located in Fairfax, and you can reach them by phone at 703-359-4440 or online at www.alz.org/nca. They offer counseling and a host of ways to make connections. In fact, it looks like there’s an array of fundraisers and other activities coming up this fall. You might find that investing some energy in fighting your father’s disease will give you a renewed sense of hope.
Don’t forget to share your feelings with your husband and let him know how to support you too.